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Hochul backs the state party chair as other Democrats call for his ouster

The New York state Capitol building.
Wangkun Jia
The New York state Capitol building.

There are increasing calls to replace the head of the state’s Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, after Gov. Kathy Hochul’s narrow win for election last week and the loss of four congressional seats to Republicans. But the governor, for now, is sticking with Jacobs.

Soon after the elections were over, the finger-pointing among Democrats began.

Hochul, who beat Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin by fewer than 6 percentage points, ran a closer race than expected. Four congressional seats in New York flipped from Democratic to Republican, including one held by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, who was beaten by Assemblyman Mike Lawler. The losses could cost Democrats control of the House. Democrats also lost seats in the state Senate, costing the party their supermajority in that house.

Progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a New York Times story blamed the “calcified machine-style” structure of the state Democratic Party and said it has to change. She also said Democratic candidates leaned in too heavily on Republican narratives of crime and public safety.

Over the weekend, a letter circulating among Democratic Party officials called for Jacobs to resign, saying he “failed to committee the time, energy, and resources necessary to maintain our deep blue status.” The letter was first reported by Spectrum News. Over 100 elected officials, including state Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger and Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera, along with numerous state committee members and district leaders, signed the letter.

But Hochul, speaking in Buffalo on Monday, said Jacobs is staying.

“Jay Jacobs is the chair of the party,” Hochul said.

Hochul’s election to a full term as governor solidified her status as the leader of the Democratic Party and she has control over the choice of party chair. She conceded that there is room for rebuilding the party from the ground up to make it the “powerhouse” that it should be.

“There’s a lot of different ideas on how to get to basically the same results,” Hochul said. “And I’m the person who is responsible for that, I gratefully own that mantle.”

Hochul said she’ll work with everyone who wants to have a “seat at the table” as long as they share the interest of having candidates who are “electable” and espouse Democratic values.

Jacobs, who also held the post under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, spoke on WAMC’s Capitol Connection before the letter was released. He said while he’s disappointed with the losses, he believes the party did all it could to support Democratic candidates across the board.

“I see that there is some of the usual sniping from some folks after an election because they are unhappy with the results,” Jacobs said on Nov. 10. “And that’s something that I just have gotten used to. Because it happens in every election.”

Meanwhile, the state’s Republican Party will need a new leader. State GOP Chair Nick Langworthy was elected to Congress last week in a western New York district. A spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, Jessica Proud, said the party will decide on a new chair within the next couple of weeks.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.